Drama erupted in a Kitui court Wednesday when a former Catholic priest charged with attempting to kill a Form Two student and the child he allegedly fathered with her was acquitted.
Kitui Chief Magistrate Stephen Mbungi ruled that there was no concrete evidence linking Japheth Mwove Kimanzi to the assault that caused grievous harm to the mother and her child.
“The court could not rely on the testimony of the victim alone as there was no forensic evidence to prove the case. The accused brought witnesses who testified he spent the night at Kabati Catholic Parish on the night the attack happened,” said the magistrate while acquitting the priest.
The decision triggered protests and loud wailing from the complainant, Veronica Musali Mutua, who said she had been denied justice.
Crying and with her deaf and blind nine-year-old daughter tied to her back, Ms Mutua urged well-wishers to intervene and help her file an appeal.
Mr Kimanzi, meanwhile, walked out of the court smiling.
He was the head of the Kabati Parish in the Kitui Catholic Diocese and had served in the Nuu Catholic Parish. But he was kicked out of the priesthood when the murder charges came to light.
During the six-year trial, lurid details emerged about Mr Kimanzi’s alleged plans to destroy evidence linking him to the child in a desperate attempt to cover up his violation of his celibacy vows.
Ms Mutua and her daughter were brutally attacked on the night of November 16, 2015. The child suffered permanent disabilities, including loss of sight, a damaged brain and crippled legs. The girl gradually became deaf and blind.
Witness testimony and court documents showed that Mr Kimanzi had refused to take responsibility for raising the child and frustrated efforts by the girl’s family to get justice.
The court heard how Ms Mutua, then a naïve 15-year-old girl, was enticed by Mr Kimanzi using biscuits, cash gifts and other little favours. He was then serving in the Nuu Catholic Parish.
She told the court that Mr Kimanzi lured her into an illicit relationship while she was a Form One student at Mwambiu Mixed Secondary School in Mwingi. She said he later started using violence, intimidation and bribery to silence her.
“I dropped out of school in shame, having let down my parents. My peers ridiculed me for coveting a priest and I’ve been struggling to raise the baby on my own since February 2012,” she said in her testimony.
On the day she and her child were attacked, Mr Kimanzi is said to have invited her to the Kabati Parish offices, his new station, to discuss how the child would get specialised medical attention. He had told her to bring all clinical reports.
But, unknown to Ms Mutua, this was a trap intended to inflict further pain, intimidate her into total silence or possibly kill her.
“He telephoned me and suggested that we meet. I travelled from Thika with my daughter as agreed, but when I arrived at Kabati Holy Family Church where he used to minister, he wasn’t in and his phone was off,” she said in court.
The parish guard, she testified, had been instructed to keep her waiting until he returned, but around 5pm, Mr Kimanzi called asking her to meet him at his Tulia village home, 20km away, where he claimed he was held up.
“I took a matatu and headed to his home, arriving late in the evening, but he was not there either. I found his mother, who chased me away, prompting me to seek accommodation at a neighbour’s home,” she told the court.
While at the neighbour’s house, Mr Kimanzi called, threatening to kill her for embarrassing him. His mother followed her there and demanded she be thrown out for being a disgrace to her son.
“Cowed by the threats, my host opted to escort me to the nearby market to board a taxi back to Kabati, but little did I know that after stepping out of that house, I was walking into a well-laid death trap,” she said.
As she walked out, a man emerged from the darkness armed with a blunt object and started chasing them. She was hit in the head while the woman who had briefly hosted her took off to safety, leaving them at the mercy of the assailant.
“I recognised my attacker was the same priest who had invited me to their home for reconciliation. I shouted his name but he responded by hitting my child, who was still on my back, on the head and blood started oozing from her nose,” Ms Mutua narrated to the court.
She said she suffered serious head injuries but survived by feigning unconsciousness after it occurred to her that the lone attacker was determined to kill them. The aggressor fled, convinced that she and her child were dead and that his task had been accomplished.
She left the bleeding toddler on the road and crawled into a nearby thicket, where she spent the night writhing in pain. The two were discovered the following morning by villagers, who alerted police.
Before the attack, Ms Mutua had written a letter to the then Kitui Catholic Bishop Anthony Muheria, which she dropped off at his residence, explaining her troubles.
She said she had been denied access to the bishop on several occasions. The letter prompted the church to open an internal investigation.
To the church, a DNA report implicating Mr Kimanzi as the father of Ms Mutua’s daughter was an embarrassing scandal and a major affront against the vow celibacy, a requirement for Catholic priests.
For his part, Mr Kimanzi denied the assault charges, telling the court that Ms Mutua was out to tarnish his name and that he did not attack her.